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When we think of humility, we usually think of trying to act shy or embarrassed when someone compliments us. Humility in the Church today is commonly just a pretense—part of what it means to be a well-mannered Christian. It’s easy to learn how to act “humble” in the Church today. Body language is a key factor. Squirming in one’s chair, looking away, smiling awkwardly, blushing and saying things like “No, really, I don’t deserve any credit,” all add up to a very impressive show. When we see people putting on such performances, we are easily fooled into thinking they’re the real deal. Attracted to their seemingly small egos, we promote them to positions of influence in the Church so we can all learn from their holy example. Of course, in reality most people who act humble are really devious glory hounds who have learned how to squeeze extra compliments out of people. As they brush their hands through the air and say “It was nothing. I’m really not that good of a teacher,” what they really mean is “Tell me again how wonderful I am.” And people usually do, for false humility has a way of coaxing compliments out of others. Of course none of this carnal rot lines up with God’s definition of humility. What we call humility in the Church today is usually false humility. The real deal—biblical humility—is an entirely different thing.
Real humility isn’t pretending that you don’t like being complimented when in reality you absolutely love it. Real humility is a sincere, down-to-your-core revulsion towards being praised. Truly humble Christians are intensely bothered by other people saying they are wonderful. This isn’t because they have low self-esteem. On the contrary, humble Christians can be very confident people who have a very high opinion of their own value in God’s eyes. But the humble Christian gets his entire sense of worth from God alone—not from the fawning of other people. To him, the praise of others sounds like the shallow, meaningless thing that it is. People are fickle. One minute they think you’re the best thing ever, the next moment they are driving you out of the congregation and accusing you of serving Satan. The humble Christian has no use for the praises of people, nor does he make it his goal to try and impress others. He is focused on God, and God is the only One he cares about pleasing. If people like him, it’s convenient. If they don’t, it can be a hassle, but either way, the humble Christian is going to obey his orders from the Holy Spirit. He will not let people deter him from doing what God wants him to do.
True humility is a very unnatural thing. We’re all born thinking that the entire universe should revolve around us: this is why we lie in our cribs screaming for services at every hour of the day and night. We have to be taught that there are other people in the world who matter as much as we do, and it’s not a lesson we enjoy learning. What society calls “good manners” is basically learning to hide how self-centered you really feel under a bunch of polite terminology. Yet learning how to act like a polite, civilized adult does nothing to reduce the size of our egos. Our pride still lurks beneath our smiling surface like a giant monster, eagerly devouring any crumb of glory that is cast our way.
Don’t confuse humility with diplomacy. The two concepts have nothing to do with each other. A truly humble Christian might be quite bold and outspoken. He might say things that royally offend others. Humility has nothing to do with trying to tiptoe around other people’s feelings.
So how do we get true humility? We don’t get it by putting on a bunch of phony acts or by sitting around thinking about how unworthy we are. A humble Christian doesn’t focus on himself, he focuses on God. An intense desire for God to be properly exalted is what fuels humility, along with a reverential respect for who God is. In order to become truly humble, we need to focus on God’s great power, wisdom, and perfection. The more we come to understand how He holds every molecule in the universe together, the more obnoxious the whole idea of us taking the glory for anything becomes. Considering that we can’t even breathe apart from God, we can hardly take the bows for setting up some new ministry. The more we see how wise God is, the more ridiculous our own “wisdom” becomes to us. We lose all respect for our ability to make good decisions and we rely entirely on God to guide us in life. When we’re so aware that we’re depending on Him to guide us, how can we possibly take credit for the things He has done through us? Taking the glory for God’s work starts to feel horribly wrong, as if we’re committing some terrible crime. Our spirits begin to recoil at the sight of admiration on other people’s faces. “Stop looking at me! It’s God you should be impressed with, I’m just a fallen human being!” we want to shout. God is perfect, while we are hopelessly flawed. Everything good comes from Him, nothing good originates with us. The more humble we become, the more it bothers us to see God being so underappreciated and overlooked.
One way to speed up the process of becoming humble is to study God’s jealousy. God detests it when other people try to steal His glory or take one ounce of credit for the things He alone has done. Anything worth talking about is something God alone has done. The fact that He chose to involve us in the process doesn’t earn us even the smallest fraction of glory. The role we play in God’s work is never critical. He doesn’t need our help, and if we don’t cooperate with His plan, He’ll get someone else or He’ll just do it Himself. Did Moses assist God in parting the Red Sea by holding his staff up in the air? Not hardly. Did God need Joshua to march around Jericho seven times before He could figure out how to make the walls fall over? No. Did He require the help of a brat like Samson to topple a temple? No. The moment we think we’re some critical cog in God’s plans, we have lost our grip on humility. The truly humble Christian has a firm grip on the fact that even on his best day he can’t add anything to God. The humble soul views serving God as a great honor that he does not even begin to deserve. Does a guest arrive at a party and then take credit for the invitation in his hand? Of course not. He recognizes that it was the host who invited him to come, and he feels privileged to be included in the event. So also, the humble Christian feels extremely honored that God would assign such a bumbling servant even the smallest bit part in His perfect work. To even be noticed by God is an indescribable privilege, let alone to be used by Him to accomplish some good on earth. So when the moment comes for handing out the praises, the humble Christian is most anxious that God alone be properly magnified. The humble Christian is already frustrated by his inability to praise God enough, so to see God exalted in public by others gives him a deep feeling of satisfaction. But when those others try to direct some of that praise and glory at the humble Christian, he is thoroughly repulsed. He knows that God hates having His glory stolen by others, and since the humble Christian cares only about God being pleased, he also hates seeing God cheated out of what is rightfully His.
While false humility puts on a phony act of disliking compliments and praise, true humility is sincerely upset by being the target of any undue admiration. To the truly humble Christian, there is no such thing as appropriate admiration. A humble Christian is jealous for God to be exalted at all times—it was this kind of jealousy that drove Jesus to react so violently to the corruption of His Father’s Temple in Jerusalem. To the truly humble Christian, it is a very serious crisis when God is not being properly appreciated. Christians who are just faking humility, on the other hand, have no problems with shoving God aside so that they can get a bigger portion of the spotlight. Christians who are faking humility might stammer and blush in the spotlight, but when the applause begins to thunder, they are loving life. To the truly humble Christians, being applauded is like having their gums scraped in a dentist’s chair. Before it happens, they are dreading it, and afterwards, they feel miserable and just want to get away from everyone. A truly humble Christian cannot take any pleasure in being exalted by men because he is acutely aware that God is being offended.
We’re told in the Bible that Moses was the most humble man on the planet at the time that he lived. God was very pleased with Moses and God exalted him in many ways in the eyes of other people. It is entirely different to be exalted by God than it is to be exalted by people, however the truly humble man doesn’t want to be exalted period. Although God showed special favor to Moses in many public ways, Moses never became arrogant. This is because a truly humble man finds God’s praise of him even more humbling. When God says “well done” to a humble soul, that soul will experience a mix of delight and unworthiness. A humble soul never feels like he deserves any praise—least of all from God. He doesn’t seek out praise for himself, but instead seeks to bring honor to God. God in the spotlight is what the humble man craves. God being applauded, God being complimented, God being exalted. The humble man just can’t get enough of any of these things, where as the fakers—well, they quickly tire of hearing about how great God is. If anyone goes on too long about God alone, the fakers will attempt to bring people’s attention back to the role that they personally played in God’s plan.
Should someone say, “It is so awesome how God finally got through to Susan,” the faker will say, “Yes, I think the way that I approached her really made her heart finally receptive to the truth. You have to know the right words to say and you have to speak them at just the right moment.” If someone says, “God really spoke to me in the sermon last week,” the faker will say, “Yes, I really worked hard on that message. I felt it was what we needed to hear.” If someone says, “Look at all the doors the Lord is opening to minister in China,” the faker will say, “Yes, and my team and I really planted a lot of seeds the last three months we were there. Now we’re expecting a real harvest when we return.” The faker wants to focus on “I”. The truly humble Christian wants to avoid “I.” Ask the Holy Spirit to help you become a truly humble Christian.